Every Tuesday, Elliott Hanson sits in class from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. before grabbing dinner. Then he heads to the BU Student Theater where he gets into full costume, hair, and make-up before picking up his script and rehearsing lines with his co-stars. He emerges from the dressing room in freshly creased dress pants, black tie, and a suit vest over a white dress shirt. The look is complete with a thin black arm garter and Elliott is now transformed into Jim O’Connor of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. He waits for his director to go over notes from the last rehearsal, and then he gets on stage to deliver the performance he’s been working towards for months.
Hanson’s confidence on stage makes it seem like he’s studying theater performance in the College of Fine Arts. But, Elliot isn’t sitting through theater arts classes for five hours on Tuesday. He’s sitting through film and television production courses in the College of Communication and Economics courses in the College of Arts and Sciences.
As a double major, Elliott has an extremely demanding schedule. But, beyond his academic pursuits, he is a theater buff that was involved in all of his high school productions, but came to college with a different career path in mind. Luckily for Elliot and many other high school theater lovers that don’t choose to major in theater performance in college, Boston University provides many extracurricular, student-run, performing arts groups on campus.
“It gives me a creative outlet that I don’t get from my academic studies,” says Jamie Johansen, a History major in the School of Education. Johansen is the technical director for BU Stage Troupe’s rendition of The Glass Menagerie. “I wanted to still be involved with stage production when I got to college, and Stage Troupe allows me to do that.”
BU Stage Troupe is one of those student-run groups on campus that puts on a variety of theater performances ranging from musicals, to comedies, to the classics. Students from all different majors and minors, none of which are theater performance majors from CFA, direct, act, design, and tech for all of their productions.
“We don’t allow performance majors from CFA in any of our programs,” says BU Stage Troupe’s director of PR Karlie Fitzgerald, “it allows students who aren’t focusing on performance as their career to still be involved.” CFA theater majors can still be involved in behind the scenes production, but the acting is saved for students who want to keep theater in their lives though they chose not to major in it.
“It’s more of a closed off environment…they have their own resources and they’re entitled to those resources, but it’s kind of hard to penetrate that when you’re from the outside,” Karlie says of theater productions at the College of Fine Arts.
But, BU stage Troupe is not short on resources to put on any production they pursue. In between Agganis Area and Fit Rec is the BU Student Theater – a state of the art performance theater with a prop room, rehearsal areas, hair and make-up rooms, and a full technical booth. Though they may not be performing at the Boston University Theatre like CFA students, the resources at their disposal allow them to put on professional productions.
“The Student Theater was built about 5 years ago, and we cannot be more grateful to BU for giving us such incredible facilities,” says Karlie Fitzgerald. The theater can sit up to 100 audience members, which is small for most theaters. Extra space would be useful, says Stage Troupe members, but the close and intimate environment proves beneficial for their regularly sold-out productions.
As of just recently, it looks like extracurricular theater groups may be the only ones with a home to perform on campus.
Last month the Boston University Theatre at 264 Hunting Avenue was sold for $25 million after being on the market for about 5 months. The 890-seat theater, along with two adjoining buildings, was sold to an investment group working with developer John Matteson. The theater was owned by Boston University for the past 62 years and showcased the partnership between BU and the Hunting Theatre Company that began in 1982.
The theater and the adjoining buildings served as a prestigious stage and creative space for CFA students. It gave student cast and crewmembers a place to rehearse, perform, design costumes, and construct sets. Without the theater, CFA students are without a concrete home to perform.
“To be honest I’m a bit upset about the theater being sold,” says CFA student Aaron Dowdy, “I’m very excited for the new plans that they have to centralize the campus, but that theater was a great place for us to reach the Boston Theater community, not just the BU Theater community.”
BU senior vice president for operations, Gary Nicksa, says the money from the sale of the theater will help fund plans to build a new performance theater on BU’s Charles River Campus. The $25 million deal on the BU Theatre is just half of the price tag promised by BU to update and improve CFA facilities.
CFA doesn’t plan to put their large-scale productions on hold because of the sale of the BU Theatre. All future productions will be performed at proscenium stages around Boston through various rental agreements.
“I performed there my sophomore year and seeing the house filled with non-students was an incredible feeling,” Dowdy, a rising senior, says of the BU Theatre, “I don’t know if the class below me will get that with a new space.”
Though CFA students are without a stable performance space for the near future, they continue to support student theater programs on campus though they themselves are not permitted to be involved in productions outside of CFA. In regards to these extracurricular groups, Dowdy says, “it’s awesome, and the fact that they have their own space is invaluable.”
Unlike CFA students, those involved in BU’s extracurricular student theater groups won’t continue to pursue theater as a career after they leave college. Many of them will go on to be teachers, doctors, publicists, and beyond. So what happens next?
For Elliott Hanson, the idea of giving up theater after college is impossible, even though he will go on to work in the television industry at ABC after he graduates this spring.
“I will never be done doing theater…I plan to keep doing it for as long as I live,” says Hanson, “it’s something that I never want to give up.”